Call the Midwife Season 9 Episode 7 Recap: Ideal Parents

After such an excellent, thoughtful, sensitive episode last week, this one just felt odd. And I think it felt odd because it wasn’t good. At all. There were things that came out of nowhere, both the mothers’ storylines were actually pretty offensive, and I finished up by just kind of blinking at the television, baffled. Did they have different writers this episode?

Let’s start with Crane. Since Woolf left, she’s been struggling to cope with leading the Scouts. This is the first time we’re hearing of this, and the first time it’s been alluded to or anything, but apparently she’s so exhausted she’s barely able to speak to anyone.

She kind of asks Lucile if she’ll help, but Lucile’s like, ‘Sorry, no, I’ve got a life!’ It seemed to me like Lucile just really wasn’t interested in dealing with a bunch of screaming young kids in her downtime, and I can’t blame her at all for that. It’s intense. But then Cyril volunteers the pair of them to help Crane out and she just goes with it. Honestly, I’m not sure if she didn’t want to do it and just got railroaded into the job, or if she did want to help but also wants to have time to spend with Cyril which she’s now getting… this wasn’t very well handled. They help the kids build go-karts.

Also, Val’s gran is in a very bad way in prison. The woman can barely swallow food, which is, obviously, very concerning for Val. I think we’ll hear more of this next week.

So, uh, McNulty is an addict? The hell? We’ve had this guy in three episodes now and at no point was this in any way foreshadowed. And no, I don’t think that him providing pethidine to Sister Frances last week counts, because he’s a doctor and it’s not completely odd for him to have ready access to painkillers. But apparently he has those painkillers in his pocket because he’s popping them like breath mints to take care of a shoulder injury he got in med school. What the hell kind of full-contact med school did he go to?

Now, for anyone (like me) who is not up on their addictive narcotics: pethidine is better known to many as demerol. It’s hefty stuff. And apparently McNulty’s so deeply into this addiction that he’s now stealing the injectable form from the locked medicine cupboard.

This is sloppy storytelling. Just dropping what appears to be a longstanding addiction into the story some time after meeting a character is lazy. He’s been living at Nonnatus this whole time. He was staying there with fellow doctors whom he’d clearly known for quite some time. And yet this never came up. Was never hinted at. This is poor.

We’ll return to this in a minute.

Let’s talk about Yvonne Smith. She’s heavily pregnant and has a horrible, abusive, alcoholic husband. When we first meet her, she looks absolutely filthy, which seems like a strange styling choice because throughout the rest of the episode she doesn’t appear to be slovenly or particularly inclined to be so. Does her husband not allow her to wash? I’m confused.

She has a really bad UTI, so they check her into the maternity hospital for treatment. Her POS husband shows up there one day, swaying and being really aggressive and prompting McNulty to raise his voice slightly, for which he later apologises to everyone for losing his temper. If that’s losing his temper I have even more questions about how he ever got involved in anything aggressive enough to mess up his shoulder. Or maybe his shoulder got messed up because he didn’t get involved, he just stood there and got pounded.

Yvonne goes into labour a bit early, and Sister Frances leaves her with McNulty while she goes to fetch some supplies. I guess he’s high at the time (it’s not quite clear), or maybe going through withdrawal or something, because by the time Frances comes back he’s done a completely unnecessary episiotomy and Yvonne is understandably freaking out. Frances kicks him to the side and takes over, safely delivering Yvonne’s son.

Later, McNulty approaches Yvonne to reassure her that neither she nor the baby were in any danger (and thus, I guess, admitting that what he did was unnecessary?) and she spits that all men are basically just assholes whom you can’t rely on. So, her rather thin storyline about her abusive relationship is really just there to serve the story of this male doctor’s addiction shame. Great.

Also, the whole thing is wrapped up in a way that’s so simple it’d be laughable if I wasn’t so put off by it. Yvonne is urged to just go stay with a relative. She has an aunt in Margate, so off she goes. Forever? Is her husband not likely to go looking for her there? He seemed pretty determined to have her with him, so I doubt he’s just going to shrug off her disappearing with their kid. Not to mention, even horrible parents have certain legal rights over their own children, a fact which this very show made just a few episodes ago. Also: it’s pretty rare for a victim of abuse to leave so easily, just because someone suggests it might be a good idea.

I guess we’re not supposed to think about any of that, because this storyline was, again, only there to service McNulty’s terribly handled addiction plot. I expect better from this show.

Our other mum this week is Marion. Marion is FIERCE, probably because she’s spent a lifetime having to convince everyone else that she’s just as capable as they are, despite the fact she’s blind. Marion is expecting her first baby with her incredibly wonderful and loving husband, Stewart, and they’re both really excited.

(On a completely frivolous note, I’d like to tip my hat to Marion’s adorable mid-century maternity style. I only note it because she looks great, and so much maternity wear from that period was aggressively ugly. And while we’re talking clothes, Val is really leaning hard into the mid-60’s mod look and it is fabulous on her. That’s all.)

Marion’s fierceness extends to not wanting people to interfere, so as soon as Trixie suggests she get a home help after the birth, Marion turns it down. She’s sure she and her husband can manage on their own just fine.

Let’s meet Beryl, Marion’s judgy, interfering bitch of a sister. Beryl is VERY against Marion having this child. Even though you’d think Beryl, of all people, would be incredibly aware of just how capable Marion is. Nope, she’s sure Marion can’t do a thing and certainly can’t care for a baby, and that just feels really odd to me. There is absolutely nothing in Marion’s life that suggests she can’t cope with things. Her flat is perfectly neat and well ordered. She herself is always perfectly turned out. She’s had pretty much her whole life to figure out how to make things work for her, and she’s done a great job. Plus, she has a ton of support from her husband. Yes, babies do add a fair bit of chaos to one’s world, but there’s a period of several months in the beginning where they’re not mobile, so you can ease into things and readjust as necessar.

Beryl’s so certain Marion will be a poor mother that she goes ahead and calls social services on her. Before the baby’s even born. And social services gets right on that, all ready to start investigating as soon as this kid arrives.

I’m calling bullshit on this right now. This is a ludicrous turn for this story to take. First off, I find it impossible to believe that social services would even give the time of day to someone phoning them up to say, ‘I think someone will, in future, make a bad parent.’ I mean, come on.

Second, I’m pretty sure that, even in the 60’s, social services were too busy to just jump on a case like this. Maybe (maybe) they’d swing by just to check in with these people, but they’d probably see that everything was in good order and there was no sign of abuse or neglect and go on their way. They almost certainly have better things to be doing.

Third, it’s presented as if Marion could have her baby taken away basically just because she’s blind, which is also nonsense. Again, unless the kid’s being actively abused or neglected, they’re not going to take it away. Hell, even kids who are being actively abused or neglected are often left in that situation far longer than they should be (sometimes permansently). Social services is just too busy, and there are too few foster homes for kids to be removed for ridiculous reasons. I mean, that prostitute mum from a few weeks ago apparently kept getting her kids back, even though there was definitely abuse and neglect and generally terrible things going on there.

Also, at one point there’s a conversation between the midwives about how under any other circumstances Marion and Stewart would be considered ideal parents. But they have to deal with this nonsense, while people like Yvonne and her brute of a husband can breed away without question.

Which leads me to wonder: why the hell didn’t anyone go ahead and call social services about Yvonne and the POS, then? (I mean, mostly call social services about him.) If the local social services are so starved for something to do, why not give them something worth investigating?

Now, I obviously realise that views on people with disabilities was very different back in the 1960s, but this still feels like really manufactured drama. It’s poor, and I don’t buy it.

But everyone is really pushing this idea that Marion could very well lose her baby. Trixie is her midwife and has very little reassurance to offer. If anything, she seems to be making Marion more anxious.

She gives birth to a lovely baby girl, Rosemary. She and Stewart are overjoyed. Beryl stops by to look on from afar and refuses to hold the kid. Presumably because she doesn’t want to get attached in case it gets taken away? Because of her, I might point out? Whatever.

It’s tough, being new parents. They’re both tired, and for some reason they become completely incapable of cleaning up the dishes in the kitchen. Again, this feels really manufactured, like the show is just so determined to make it seem like they can’t cope. More to the point: Marion can’t cope. Because she’s blind, you know. And that’s some offensive, ableist nonsense.

Marion’s struggling to breastfeed, so they have to bottle feed the baby. One day, while trying to prepare the bottle, Marion accidentally burns herself, drops a pitcher (which shatters), and steps on a piece of glass while trying to get to her crying baby.

To be honest, I feel like that could have happened to any sleep-deprived new parent distracted by their screaming baby.

But here it means that MARION CAN’T COPE. She NEEDS HELP! Everyone’s pressuring her to get this home help in, which is something I feel any new parent without family to help out should have, but they’ve never suggested that any other parent on this show have such a thing.

Trixie, for some reason, suggests they get Beryl involved. As the home help.

Beryl. The person so certain her sister couldn’t manage life that she set social services on her pre-birth.

Beryl. The woman who wouldn’t even give her sister a chance.

Beryl. Someone Marion can barely stand to have in her home for more than five minutes, because it gets so tense so fast. Trixie has had to kick this woman out more than once because she was getting Marion so worked up. This is a terrible plan.

But because this is one of the worst episodes ever written, this is the ideal plan! Trixie manages to find another blind mother in Poplar. She has three kids (and man, I can barely manage with two, and I see just fine, so more power to you, lady!) She takes Marion and Stewart and Beryl to see this woman, who provides some tips (including using nappies with poppers instead of pins, which is such a basic idea I wonder why Trixie didn’t suggest it at any point. Surely they couldn’t have been so unusual if this woman was able to easily get hold of them?)

This mum tells Marion to get some help, and Marion, who’s been strongly resisting this very suggestion coming from everyone who has her welfare at the forefront of their minds, is immediately like, ‘OK! Done!’ And Beryl, who’s been nothing but difficult and resistent and horrible instantly offers to be that help.

And that makes everything better! Magical! And helping to care for her sister’s baby I guess makes Beryl suddenly want a baby of her own, or something, because she just pitches her birth control pills.

I don’t even know. This was such a bad episode. As I said earlier: I expect better from this show.

And might I just say: people with disabilities are not less capable of being great parents. They may have to make certain adjustments (as the mum-of-three did), but they can still care for their own children. The show’s pushing the notion that they can’t do so without extra full-time help is, frankly, offensive.



4 thoughts on “Call the Midwife Season 9 Episode 7 Recap: Ideal Parents

  1. I love Call the Midwife, but I am finding Season 9 frustrating to watch. The raw material seems as good as ever, but there are so many times when I find myself thinking, “Oh, that’s not how I would have written it. Oh, I wish they had explored this. Why can’t we have more depth?”

    A blind mother-to-be’s encounters both with other people’s assumptions that she can’t do things and with the daily realities of caring for an infant seems like a promising storyline, but it was written up in an awkward, melodramatic way. Maybe it should have been less about social services and more about neighbors and nurses being unhelpfully helpful and then learning to better understand how a blind person actually navigates daily routines. Shifting to the other thread of this episode: I’m actually very interested in the Dr. McNulty chronic pain/ addiction storyline, but as you point out, it needed to be paced and seeded much better than it was. We should have had a hint of his painkiller addiction in the first episode in which he appeared. And whatever the backstory on how he injured his shoulder is, that should have been gently seeded too. Is this somehow related to his wavering self-confidence because he’s from a working-class background? CtM writers, we need some breadcrumbs!

    Sister Julienne’s midlife crisis a couple episodes ago was another poignant situation that wasn’t unpacked very well. And what’s going on with Lucille and Cyril? My impression is that she genuinely isn’t sure about him, or maybe she isn’t sure she wants to get married, but we’re not getting any real character development there. They keep talking, and sometimes fighting, about how they don’t have time for each other, but they never seem to get to the deeper level of what that means. Interesting that they apparently do have time to see each other regularly if Cub Scouts are involved. Maybe Lucile is avoiding sexual advances?

    I also wish we’d get more real character development on the middle-aged women at Nonnatus House. Who is Sister Winifred, other than a cheerful community nurse? What is her personal story? We got about two sentences of it. And Phyllis, whom we already know and love: why is she suddenly so tired? Is she depressed? Does she have an undiagnosed health problem? Is she afraid Lucile will get married and leave her, like Barbara did? I feel like I have to know.

    At any rate, thank you as ever for these splendid recaps.

    1. I really wish you had written this episode! Your ideas about how to handle Marion’s storyline sound so much better than what we got.

      I’m with you that McNulty’s storyline has potential, and I wasn’t opposed to it as a storyline; I had issues with the way it was handled (as you did). It was sloppy and something of this nature deserves a more delicate, nuanced touch. But, as you pointed out, there have been a lot of clunkers this season. Like Sister Julienne’s Roman Holiday moment, and Crane suddenly being so exhausted for no apparent reason. And I can’t get a read on Lucile at all. I like the character, but like you she seems to waver so much I can’t figure out where her head is. I don’t know: I think there needs to be more focus.

      And yes, let’s give Sister Winifred more to do! I love Fenella Woolgar and she’s been SO wasted this season!

  2. If the actress playing Marion isn’t blind in real life, she did an brilliant job of acting lie it. The unfocused eyes moving seemingly at random were spot on. I spent most of the episode dreading that it would be another downer episode, where the baby gets taken away. But social services never even sent anyone around.

    1. I looked this up, because I was curious about that actress as well, and it turns out she’s been blind since birth. Fun facts: she’s the first blind actor to appear on Doctor Who and she’s also a singer and songwriter!

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